Our supporter Charles recently celebrated an incredible 80 years married to his wife, Edith. The couple have spoken to us before about the importance of support when living with Crohn's and we're so pleased to wish them a happy anniversary and share their Connect interview in celebration.
The below article was originally written for our award-winning membership magazine Connect. To find out more about the benefits of being a member with us, or to join from only £1.25 a month, click here.
WWII veteran celebrates 100th birthday
Charles Higgs, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 32, celebrated his 100th birthday last year. Charles and his wife Edith, 98, who live in Penrith, Cumbria, say they’ve managed his condition together. “It took a good year before they diagnosed what it actually was,” Charles recalls. The couple, who were then living in Sunbury-on-Thames, went back and forth to doctors in search of a remedy for Charles’ stomach complaints before they saw a specialist at Ashord Hospital hospital. “He had about four students with him,” recalls Edith. “They asked a lot of questions and then he asked: ‘Well, students, what do we think it is?’ They all piped up: ‘It’s Crohn’s.’ And the specialist said: ‘Well, of course it is.’”
The day after his diagnosis Charles was rushed into the operating theatre where surgeons removed a large portion of his bowel, which had turned gangrenous. Having lived with the condition for almost 70 years, Charles, with Edith’s help, has been fortunate to avoid any further Crohn’s-related surgery. Edith, who used to work in catering, believes diet has been key. “When he was due to come home [after surgery] they gave him a food list and right at the top was ‘no pre-heated food’.” The couple followed the advice. Edith, who does most of the cooking, also makes sure their meals don’t contain any trigger foods. She and Charles rarely eat meat, only eat fish occasionally and don’t drink or smoke. “I don’t eat things I know upset me,” says Charles. “Things like prunes – I’ll avoid them as much as I can.”
Crohn's made us stronger. We support one another.
Although Charles’ mobility is now limited by osteoarthritis, he used to enjoy an active lifestyle, which he and Edith believe had a positive impact on his condition. “I used to do a lot of walking. I’d walk miles,” Charles says. He and Edith also rode a tandem bicycle during the early days of their courtship. The couple raised their son Stuart and daughter Diane to understand their father’s condition, often planning outings around the facilities available nearby. “Whenever we went out with the children to the beaches or anywhere, they knew we had to sit somewhere near the toilets,” says Edith. Despite the inevitable setbacks, the couple haven’t let Crohn’s prevent Charles from living life to the full.
Before he began noticing symptoms of Crohn’s, Charles served as a joiner with the Royal Engineers in the Second World War, assisting with the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. He subsequently worked as a carpenter and a driver, among other roles. Charles and Edith believe their can-do attitude and willingness to work together are at the core of the success they have achieved in tackling Charles’ condition. “You just make the best of it,” he says.
The best advice from my point of view is to try to share it, if somebody will help you.
Photo credit: F Cameron Wilson - Penrith.